I’ve always felt that my compulsion to write has been a blessing in my life, taking me to unexpected places, having surprising thoughts, and meeting some thoroughly magnificent people.
But this blessing can also be a challenge to navigate, not least because living a writer’s life often means inhabiting opposite states of mind, sometimes simultaneously. We have to be obsessive (if we’re going to finish that 140,000 word novel), but we also have to resist attachment (if we have to cut 20,000 of those words). We love getting lost in flights of imaginative thought, but we also need to be prepared for deep critical thinking. We have to live out in the world to gather material and inspiration, but we also have to spend vast amounts of time alone.
The push and pull of these opposites can be bewildering and exhausting, and it can leave writers with a sense of guilt that they aren’t paying enough attention to one or the other of their opposites.
It’s taken me a long time to realise that this is normal, essential in fact, to being a creative person. What helped was reading about the creative mind and how it works, reading about the experiences of other creative people, and recognising myself in their states of being.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s books, Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention, and Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, both gave me a stronger understanding of my own mind, and how to navigate the sometimes complex compulsions of my thought processes and writing routines.
The first thing I learned was to notice my different selves, recognise the circumstances in which they flourish, and find ways for them to do the work they were born to do. For example, having a regimented work/writing routine really helps my mind to know where it’s at and what my expections are. My mind knows that at about 8.30am, when the smell of coffee starts to drift from the kitchen, it’s time to slip into my imaginative flow state and start writing. This allows one of my selves full reign to be what it wants to be, and my writing benefits as a result.
At other times, when I’m feeling the discomfort of two opposite selves wanting control, I just have to follow my instincts, and when my instincts are too deep in the work to be definitive, I step back and give myself (or as many selves as possible) some space. More often than not, the right path will present itself, usually when I’m least expecting it.
Of course, we are never only one thing, and in all occupations and relationships we present different versions of ourselves, depending on the situation and who we’re with. Acceptance and understanding of the collective and individual selves is key, as well as acknowledging how tricky this can be, a balancing act that we’ll be practicing throughout our lives.
Ultimately, all our selves feed into the words and ideas that end up on the page, so embrace the multifarious nature of who you are, and keep on writing.
If you have any writing questions or problems that you’d like me to discuss on this blog, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also offer telephone coaching, so if you’d like bespoke advice and guidance, go to the Coaching tab for details.